Monday, 1 April 2013

Google and The Economist

... what sort of a twerp would agree?

Google Reader is a service that was offered by Google which has now been discontinued. Or as the Economist put it on 21 March 2013:
GOOGLE is killing Google Reader ... Google Reader has been mourned over, angrily at times, ...
"Killing"? "Mourned"? "Angrily"? A bit melodramatic, surely. But not as melodramatic as one Google Reader murder report quoted in the Economist article:
Google is in the process of abandoning its mission. Google's stated mission is to organize all the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. RSS is a way that a small number of us organize our information. Google no longer cares. It seems what they care about is mass-markets...
"Abandoning its mission"? "Google no longer cares"? Any minute now, you sense, someone is going to accuse Google of not understanding them, before stamping their foot, walking out and slamming the door behind them, their lip quivering with helpless indignation at the unfairness of Google's behaviour.

There is no justification for this indignation, as the writer acknowledges:
[Google] hasn't done this because we're its customers, it's worth remembering. We aren't; we're the products Google sells to its customers, the advertisers.
But that doesn't stop him or her from moaning ...
Google has asked us to build our lives around it: to use its e-mail system (which, for many of us, is truly indispensible), its search engines, its maps, its calendars, its cloud-based apps and storage services, its video- and photo-hosting services, and on and on and on.
... and impotently threatening Google ...
Yanking away services beloved by early adopters almost guarantees that critical masses can't be obtained: not, at any rate, without the provision of an incentive or commitment mechanism to protect the would-be users from the risk of losing a vital service ... in the long run that's a problem for Google.
... before finally turning back to Nanny:
Once they [network externalities which have been ignored] concern large swathes of economic output and the cognitive activity of millions of people, it is difficult to keep the government out ... I find myself thinking again of the brave new world of the industrial city ... the history of modern urbanisation is littered with examples of privately provided goods and services that became the domain of the government once everyone realised that this new life and new us couldn't work without them.
The Economist used once to be rational to the point of ruthlessness. It is the duty of a company to discontinue services that don't make a profit, the Economist would then have said, that's the only way to keep the business honest.

It's not Google's duty to "protect the would-be users from the risk of losing a vital service", Google Reader isn't a vital service, what on earth is the writer doing describing it as "beloved", Google hasn't asked anyone to build their lives around its services and, even if Google did ask, what sort of a twerp would agree?

Google isn't abandoning its mission. It's pursuing it. With precisely the rigorous logic that seems now to have deserted the Economist.

Time was when the Economist's mission was to bully the world into behaving rationally. Now they just want to quiver with self-pity. Which they call "rearranging our mental architecture".

That narcissism is a problem. Google and a few other companies (the latter-day Pied Pipers of Hamelin) exercise considerable and growing power:
What Google has actually done is create a powerful infrastructure. The shape of that infrastructure influences everything that goes online. And it influences the allocation of mental resources of everyone who interacts with the online world ...

That's a lot of power to put in the hands of a company that now seems interested, mostly, in identifying core mass-market services it can use to maximise its return on investment.
Some people see the web as the key to transforming government in the 21st century – the old Economist could have helped to temper that uncritical, star-struck naïvety.

In the UK, the Government Digital Service work every day to transfer power from the government to the Pied Pipers – the old Economist could have restrained the projected embrace of web-enabled totalitarianism.

As it is, all they can do is bleat about the death of Google Reader:
The bottom line is that the more we all participate in this world, the more we come to depend on it.

2 comments:

Scott Gronmark said...

Up to a point, Lord Moss. I think it's reasonable to point out that giant digital companies who do their darndest to get untechnical users like me to sign up to their services and then remove those services within an eyeblink as part of a tidying-up exercise should have electrodes attached to their corporate gonads. Easy for a technical whizz such as yourself to find alternative services - but for dunderheads such as me, it's a right royal pain in the backside. (I'm not quivering with self-pity, by the way - merely irritated that Google seems to be determined to follow Apple's lead by annoying its "products" in petty ways. Sod 'em!)

David Moss said...

To a technical whizz, I assure you Scott, I am no technical whizz and I can but share your right royal pain.

The Economist should know better. Their article quoted above which so annoyed me would have been spiked in the days of the great Norman Macrae.

He would have predicted that a competitor would pick up where Google Reader leaves off and guess what Google search tells me:

[Feedly, an RSS company] says it has now seen 3 million new users sign up for its service in the wake of Google’s announcement that it’s shuttering Google Reader on July 1, 2013. Prior to this, Feedly had grown its own user base organically to 4 million users since its founding in 2008, to give you some perspective on how rapid this growth has been.

But now Norman, sadly, has been discontinued.

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